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HomeDrama StoriesThe Nurses. Chapter 6

The Nurses. Chapter 6

Britain declares war as Maria fights a battle of her own

Munchen.Pasing. September 3rd, 1939



"What a beautiful day!" Maria thought as she drew back the heavy curtains to allow the sun to stream through the window.


Although only seven thirty, she could feel it's warmth on her face as she closed her eyes against the brightness.


For once, this was a Sunday she didn't have to work. A rare day off from the hard work at the hospital.


Today, she decided, she would not think about work at all. She would relax and enjoy this late summer day whilst she had the chance and tomorrow? Well, tomorrow would be another day.


She put on her robe and headed downstairs to the kitchen where she found her father already with the coffee on the stove.


"Oh, hello Papa. I didn't expect to see you this early. Aren't you working late this week?"


Herman Kaufmann smiled at his daughter.


"Good morning, Maria," he began, "I was late but today I have a day off, and I didn't want to waste it by lying in bed, it looks like it is going to be a lovely day. Are you working today?"


Maria smiled brightly.


"No, not today. Hey!" she suddenly exclaimed, "As it's such a nice day maybe we could do something together. It has been so long since we have been out as a family. If I am not working, you usually are and vice versa."


"Excellent idea!" her father replied, "Maybe we could have a picnic in the Nymphenburg like we used to."


"Mmm... I would love that. I haven't been there, or the English Garden since I began training to be a nurse over six years ago."


Her father poured three cups of coffee.


"Would you prefer the English Garden then?"


"Hmm...no, I don't think so." Maria considered. "We would have to get a tram with our basket. No, let's just walk today."


"Alright then," her father replied, "Nymphenburg it is then."


Maria was really excited now at spending some time with her parents. Over the last few years, she had worked long shifts and very rarely did they seem to correspond with her father's work pattern. The weather was fine, and it looked as though it would stay that way.


"So how are things at the hospital these days?" Herman asked, "I suppose you must be very busy these days what with all the trouble and so on."


"Well..." Maria hesitated, "We don't really see too much of that as the real victims don't come to us..." her voice trailed off into silence, not really wanting to talk about the awful things she had seen.


"I understand, Sweetheart, I shouldn't have asked."


Maria smiled then said:


"What about you. Are you affected by anything?"


"I suppose I am really." Her father looked pensive, "There are quite a few troop trains passing through these days. They are not scheduled services so I don't know where they go, but they seem to use the side of the station that serves the east. Heading for Poland, I suppose. Nothing good will come of it. The French and the British have both warned Herr Hitler to stop, but I don't think he will."


There was silence for a time as father and daughter each considered their own professions in the light of the current political situation.


Eventually, Herman stood and poured another cup of coffee.


"I will just take this to your mother. Won't be a minute."


"I will start preparing some breakfast then," Maria replied, "Would you ask Mama if she would like an egg, please." Humming happily to herself, Maria began to prepare breakfast for them all and by the time she had finished, her mother was up and had joined her in the kitchen.


“Good morning, Mama,” she said, “Where is Papa? He was supposed to ask if you wanted an egg.”


“Was he? Oh, he must have forgotten...” Anna looked puzzled. “I think he went to the bathr...”


The sentence was cut short by a loud crash from upstairs then silence.






Maria and Anna both shouted in unison and ran up the stairs.


They found him lying on the bedroom floor, surrounded by pieces of broken china from the cup and saucer he had been holding when he collapsed.


Anna screamed but Maria, as calm and professional as she always was, knelt at her father's side and took his hand, searching for a pulse.


“His pulse is good, Mama, a little fast but strong and his breathing is fine.”


Pulling up his eyelids in turn, she could see from his eyes that he had fainted rather than anything too serious, so she checked him for bumps and cuts but found none.


“Mama, could you bring me a blanket and a pillow and a cold, wet cloth, please.” Anna paused, so Maria reassured her mother.


“Papa is alright, Mama. When he wakes I will check him over more thoroughly but he has a bit of a temperature so could you get those items, please.” She spoke gently, calming her mother with her words and so, Anna went to fetch the items her daughter had requested.


It took just a few moments to get the blanket and pillow from the chest and a few more to bring a wet cloth from the bathroom but when she returned to the bedroom, Herman had recovered sufficiently to be sitting up holding his head.


Anna handed the cloth to her daughter who proceeded to bathe her father's forehead.


He was visibly shaking now.


“How do you feel now, Papa?” Maria asked him.


“I am cold, Sweetheart, so cold.”


She put her arm around him and took the blanket her mother had got from the chest and placed it around his shoulders.


“That is quite normal, Papa, after a faint. It is the body's way of protecting its vital organs. Can you stand?”


“I think so,” he replied and with the assistance of his wife and daughter, got to his feet, albeit rather unsteadily.


Between them, Anna and Maria got him on to the bed where Anna removed his robe, and Maria gave him another check up.


She listened to his heart, which was strong with a good pulse, checked his reflexes, looked at his eyes and checked his pupils with a lamp. All appeared fine.


“Tell me what happened, Papa, so I can make sure you are well.”


Herman thought for a moment then ventured:


“Well, I bent down to pick up your mother's cup from the table, and when I stood up, I felt dizzy. Everything became sort of...well vague, I suppose, and I felt very hot. The next thing I remember is lying on the floor with you kneeling beside me.”


“Hmm...” Maria stood up and pulled the bedclothes over her father.


“Well, Papa, I have an idea what it might be but will you come to the hospital with me when you can? I will get one of the doctors to check you over, just to be sure.”


Herman took his daughter's hand and squeezed it gently.


“Yes, Sweetheart, I will. I trust your judgement. Thank you for being here.”


“Oh, Papa, don't thank me. If I cannot help my own father, who else could I help?” Maria smiled down at him. “Anyway, you need to rest. I think you have been working too hard and are exhausted. You need to take a little more time off.”


“Says the busy young nurse who puts everyone else before herself!” Herman laughed lightly, “but maybe you are right. I have been overdoing it lately. So much to do and so few staff.”


“You rest here now, Papa. I will bring you some breakfast and a glass of water and then you can sleep a little.”


“Yes, Sister. I will.” Herman squeezed her hand again and smiled before releasing her to return to the kitchen.


A few minutes later, she was joined by her mother who looked pale, suddenly and frightened.


“Maria...” she seemed to be trying to ask a question that she didn't want the answer to.


“ Mama, he is fine, I am sure.” Maria spoke reassuringly and tried to calm her mother by explaining that it really was just exhaustion.


Anna sat down and clasped her hands in front of her face, resting her forehead on her fists.


"I am Worried, Maria," She said, eventually, raising her head to look at her daughter, "Your father works as many hours as you do. He comes home, sleeps then before you know it he is back at work again. He doesn't get time to rest properly at all."


"Would you like me to talk to him, Mama? See if I can get him to take some time off?" Maria took her mother's hands in her own.


"Would you, Sweetheart?" Anna looked at her daughter, her eyes filled with worry and pleading. "I know he would listen to you, he is so proud of you."


Maria smiled.


"Of course I will, Mama. I can see he needs to rest. Later, when he has slept a little, I will talk to him."


It was past midday when Herman Kaufmann reappeared in the kitchen. He looked much better, and the colour had returned to his skin.


Maria turned from the window where she had been watching the little birds flitting around the small garden as her mother busied herself with the little jobs that needed doing in the flower beds.


"Papa!" she exclaimed, "Are you feeling any better now?'


"Oh, very much better now, thank you." Herman planted a small kiss on her forehead.


Maria placed a cup on the table and poured him a cup of coffee.


"It may be a little strong," she said, "it has been on for a while. I will make a fresh one if you prefer."


Herman smiled.


"No," he said, "I am sure it will be fine."


Placing the pot back on the stove, Maria sat down beside her father. She didn't speak right away. She wasn't sure exactly how to begin so, in the end, she decided that it was best just to be direct.


"Mama is worried," she began. "She says that you work far too much and don't get enough rest."


Her father didn't speak but sat with his cup in his hands, staring at it as if at a loss to find a reply.


"I am worried too, Papa. I know times are hard, but you need to take care of yourself. You and Mama are all I have."


Looking up, his eyes beginning to moisten, Herman placed his cup on the table and took Maria's hand.


"If I tell you something will you promise me not to tell your mother?"


Maria was scared.


"Are you having an affair?" she asked.


"Oh darling, no." he reassured her, "I would never want anyone but your mother and I would certainly never do anything to hurt you."


"Then what, Papa. What has happened that made you so ill?"


Herman knew he didn't have to ask her again to promise, so he went ahead without her assurance.


"I didn't quite tell you the truth when I said I don't see what goes on." he began, "I do see things that I don't want to see."


Maria took his hand as he continued.


"I know about the trains that take prisoners to the camps. I know about the political criminals who are taken to Dachau. I don't know what happens to them, but I do know they don't come back through my station." He fell silent for a moment. Maria didn't press him but waited patiently for him to regain his thoughts. Eventually, he went on.


"I cannot tell your mother about these things, it would upset her, but I know you must see it too, even though you say you don't."


Maria looked at him.


"Yes, Papa, I do," she whispered, but she still did not tell him about the incident that occurred on the previous November, "and you are right, we cannot tell Mama, but you can talk to me about it. I understand how you feel, I really do." She put her arm around her father and held him tight.


"I also understand that there is nothing either you or I can do about it. We do whatever we can, but it will help no one if we make ourselves ill or even get arrested. No, we must do whatever we can within the possibilities our respective positions allow."


"You are such a good person, Maria." Herman held his daughter, "Are you sure you are only twenty-one?" He smiled.


"Oh yes, Papa, but I think we all have had to grow up quickly." She thought for a moment. "Do you really have to work such long hours?" she asked.


Her father looked at her then slowly said:


"No, not really. I was afraid that if I spent too much time with your mother and you, I would tell you about these things and I didn't want you to worry so I just worked as much as I could."


"Oh, Papa! I wish I had realised sooner. You have made yourself ill needlessly. You can talk to me now, about anything and I won't tell Mama. I will just tell her that you overdid working and that you have promised to do a little less...you do promise, Papa, don't you?"


The last bit was more of an order than a request and Herman smiled.


"Yes, Sweetheart," he answered, "I promise. Now, what about this picnic. It is a shame to waste such a nice afternoon."


"There is no need, Papa. You rest and get well again."


"I am fine now, Sweetheart. You have lifted a great weight of my shoulders. A picnic in the park with the two people I love the most will be the best medicine for me."


For a moment, father and daughter sat in a silent embrace until, finally, Maria kissed her father's cheek and stood up.


“You go and get washed and dressed while I get the basket together then. When we are ready, I shall call Mama in from the garden and surprise her.”


Herman nodded. He looked at Maria for a moment then, before he turned away, said, “I love you, Sweetheart.”


“I love you too, Papa.” she replied.


For a second, she looked out the window again, at her mother digging out some weeds. She felt sad that she couldn't tell her about the conversation she had with her father, 'but no', she thought, 'it wouldn't be fair', so she busied herself preparing a little feast, as much as she could with the limited ingredients she had available. She packed some sausage, peppered salami, some cheese and sliced some bread and added a thin layer of margarine. She also hard boiled three white eggs.


Finally, she put some water onto a flask and before long all was ready. 'A feast fit for King Ludwig himself' she thought to herself then tapped on the window to her mother who looked up and saw she was beckoning.


Anna Kaufmann jumped to her feet and went quickly to the kitchen.


“What is it?” she asked nervously, “What is wrong? Is it your father?”


“No, Mama, nothing is wrong. Quite the contrary,” she told her and placed her hands on her mother's shoulders. “Papa is fine.”


“Is he up then?” Anna tried to turn, to go to him, but Maria tightened her grip on her mother's shoulders.


“He is up, yes, and he will be down in a moment, but I have to tell you something. Papa has been working too hard lately and has not had enough rest. As a result, he became exhausted and fainted.”


Again, her mother went to turn away but Maria held her firmly.


“Mama! He is fine. Let him dress. He will be down in a moment.” A pause, “We have talked at length, and he has promised me he will cut down on his hours, spend more time at home.”


“Did he say that? There is nothing else wrong?”


“Yes, Mama, he said that and he assures me that is all.”


Anna slouched forward, sighing as she relaxed and Maria put her arms around her to hold her steady.


“What would we do without you, Maria? You are our angel.”


“Oh Mama, I am not an angel. Any other daughter would do the same for her parents.”


Her mother squeezed her and gently patted her on the back then stood up straight with a sigh. It was then that she saw the basket on the side.


“Oh yes,” she said, I forgot about that but why have you not put it away?” her eyes widened, “We are still going? What about your father?”


Maria gave a gentle chuckle.


“Don't fret so, Mama, Papa is well now he has rested. He said that spending the afternoon with the two people he loved most would be the best medicine and, do you know what? I think he might just be right.”


Anna smiled and shook her head gently.


“Once again, Maria, what would we do without you?”


“May I ask you something, Mama?”


“Of course, Sweetheart, You don't have to ask.” Anna looked at her daughter.


“Did you want any more children or was I enough?”


Anna paused before she replied as if thinking about the answer.


“Yes,” she said slowly, “I did want another, but things were so difficult when you were born, We only just managed to keep you. By the time we had become financially stable we didn't think it was right to have another baby, so... but why do you ask?”


“Oh, no particular reason. It's just that sometimes I feel as if something is missing from my life,” she paused, “Just me being silly I suppose, maybe I am just seeing people who grew up in large families, with brothers and sisters and wondering what it is like.”


Anna's eyes began to fill.


“Oh Mama, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. I still love you and Papa the same. I was just curious, that's all.” and she leaned forward and kissed her mother on the cheek, “Come on,” she said brightly, “Papa will be ready soon, let's get this stuff together and get our coats.”


Anna smiled and wiped her eyes.


“ Yes,” she replied, “I am looking forwards to our little picnic.”


When they were all ready, Maria took up the basket, and they headed out in the direction of the Nymphenburg Palace. It wasn't a long walk from where they lived, normally around thirty minutes, but it was such a lovely day that they walked slowly and enjoyed the warm sun. Deliberately, they took a route away from the town with it's empty, broken and burnt shops and anti-Jewish slogans painted on them. This was one Sunday that the Kaufmann family were going to enjoy together and enjoy it they did. They found a place on the edge of a wooded area where they could enjoy the sun or the shade as the temperature dictated and laid out an old blanket.


When they were ready, they ate the food and drank water and chatted, just as they did when Maria was a child.


Time flew by and it seemed they had only just arrived when the sun began to dip in the sky. They packed up the picnic things, folded the blanket and began the slow, relaxed walk home.


Closing the door behind them, Herman Kaufmann sighed deeply.


"Papa?" Maria turned quickly.


He was smiling as he spoke.


"That was a lovely afternoon, wasn't it?"


Both Maria and Anna replied in unison:


"Mmm...yes, it was indeed."


"That was a good idea of yours, Maria." her mother continued, "I think it has done us all a lot of good. Don't you think so, Herman?" she directed the question at her husband.


"Yes I do, very much so, though..." his face fell a little, "...goodness knows when, or even if, we will do it again."


"Well," Maria took both their hands, "Even if we don't, we still have each other."


Settling down, Herman switched on the radio set and waited for it to warm up.


He sat up suddenly and listened intently for a minute then leaned forward and switched it off again.


When Maria and her mother entered the living room, he told them what he had just heard, that Germany was now at war with Britain and France.


They didn't discuss it but sat silently and allowed the news to sink in.


Maria was the one who broke the silence.


"Well," she said, "That's it then. Who knows what will happen now."


"Who indeed," her father replied pensively, "who indeed."



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